This Offseason Will Look Like the Last for the Detroit Tigers

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The days of shopping and window shopping for Tigers management (and fans) look to be over. No longer will we look over the list of top free agents and imagine who could fill what hole or what a wonderful paper roster we might see next year. But that doesn’t mean this offseason will be any less exciting than when the Tigers were pursuing Victor Martinez or Prince Fielder. Just look at 2013…

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Though this wasn’t really discussed, it appears that the Tigers really went into the 2013-2014 offseason with only $2 million to spend – assuming they offered arbitration to all of their eligibles (and didn’t pick up Jose Veras‘ option) – in order to stay within the budgetary parameters imposed from above. That meant no money to sign any of the team’s three key free agents: Joaquin Benoit, Omar Infante and Jhonny Peralta. No qualifying offer to Peralta? Well it would appear that the organization couldn’t afford the risk that he might take it, which would force them to make moves to free up cash and still leave other needs unaddressed.

The default probably would have been to go with Jose Iglesias at short and Hernan Perez at second, with Bruce Rondon as the presumed closer. The team’s only free agent signing would probably have been a setup man that they could get for $3 million or less: Joba Chamberlain. Nick Castellanos would have been expected to compete with Andy Dirks for playing time in left.

But… Tigers offseasons are never dull because Dave Dombrowski is an activist sort of a general manager. Some are cautious and “loss-averse” when it comes to making moves, Dombrowski is not. Prince Fielder was moved to free up $8 million, Doug Fister to free up another $7 million, that $15 million went to sign Rajai Davis and Joe Nathan.

We won’t really know what the Tigers hard or soft budgetary cap has been set at this offseason until it’s all said and done, this isn’t the kind of thing that they want potential season ticket buyers to be thinking about during the winter. It seems likely that it will be a modest increase over the already-high 2013 payroll. Arbitration-eligibles and other built-in raises will more than gobble all of that up so, just like in 2013, the status quo is probably unaffordable. Here, of course, the status quo would mean re-signing all of the Tigers important free agents…

It’s a fair estimate that – after keeping all the guys whose options they want to pick up and who they want to offer arbitration to – the Tigers can afford to spend about $20 million more. While that may seem like a lot relative to 2013, the Tigers are also facing big free agent losses with Victor Martinez, Max Scherzer, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Coke and Torii Hunter. They can’t conceivably afford all of those guys, and probably could only afford one of Scherzer and Martinez. If the Tigers do resign Martinez, which I think is likely, I’m expecting him to get about $75 million over 4 years. That would leave the Tigers in a very similar position to last offseason – with free agents they can’t afford to keep and can’t afford to replace.

Now, the default will be to determine the 5th starter based on a competition in spring training (probably Robbie Ray or Kyle Lobstein) and count on rebounds from Bruce Rondon and Ian Krol to replace Joba Chamberlain and Phil Coke. The Tigers only free agent signing (beyond Martinez) would be Emilio Bonifacio for something like 2 years and $5 million. Bonifacio would see time in left and center with a substantial role envisioned for Steven Moya.

I do not like that scenario so as far as I’m concerned it’s good that we shouldn’t expect them to simply stand pat – that is not how Dave Dombrowski does business. We should expect a wild and crazy, wheeling and dealing offseason that will cobble together a playoff caliber roster that looks nothing like the one the Orioles swept last month.

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